Making the Grades
During an approximate 100-day period in 1994, while North Americans were fixated on making money in a new economic age, the African country of Rwanda was home to an atrocity that would eventually set itself in history as one of the largest genocides on the planet.
For those unfortunate masses in the midst of this unfathomable mayhem, all hope was lost when firsts-world governments turned their backs on the situation. In Hotel Rwanda, the lens focuses on what may be the only bright spot in this debacle: The efforts of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle)--who is identified as a Hutu himself --to save over 1,200 people from the murdering machetes of the Hutu militia.
Compared to its surroundings, the Belgian-owned Hotel Mille Collines was an opulent oasis where UN dignitaries and western media congregated, drinking highballs while enjoying melodies from the grand piano. Even prior to the massive murders, maintaining this fragile fa0xE7ade of luxury took all of the creative talents Rusesabagina could muster. For instance, when half a shipment of two-dozen lobsters arrived dead, the crafty manager told the cook to create a new menu item by filling the shells with other foods.
But the sounds of fighting outside the hotel complex are getting louder as militant Hutus begin their selective targeting of all people identified as Tutsis. Now the pampered White guests will have to face the inevitable reality: War is on the doorstep and the Heineken beer will run out soon. Piling into buses that will usher them out of the coming hell, the locals are left to fend for themselves.
The one exception is Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), a Canadian solider in charge of UN peacekeeping duties despite of having his contingent cut back to virtually nothing. (Oliver is a fictional character based upon real life Canadian Romeo Dallaire, who oversaw the meager UN peacekeeping process throughout Rwanda.) Like the story of the boy who sticks his finger in the dyke to stop the flood, Oliver's task is virtually impossible.
Eventually Rusesabagina's home is surrounded by violence, forcing him to move his family and friends into the hotel. The group consists of a mixture of Hutu and Tutsi moderates, including his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) who is recognized as a Tutsi. Although cut off from food and water, with the rooms and hallways bursting with humanity, the phone lines are, amazingly, still operating. Imploring his many influential guests to make calls to the outside world and plead for help, Rusesabagina hopes someone will finally take notice of their plight.
The movie, in an effort to provide a small inkling of the real-life horror, depicts many bloodied corpses. In one scene, when Rusesabagina and his assistant are driving through fog, they think they've driven off the road. Instead, they discover the bumpy surface is paved with the bodies of the slaughtered. Other situations show people about to be killed with the Hutu's favorite weapon, a machete, but edits prevent us from seeing the actual carnage. Later, we briefly see women in underwear and others who are possibly naked, kept within a fence. It is insinuated they have been raped.
Best described as Africa's version of Schindler's List, this film does stop short of showing the atrocities in explicit detail--this decision was made to assure a PG-13 rating and allow it to be viewed by a larger audience. However, parents (and teachers) should carefully prescreen this film before presenting it to teens. This is a haunting movie, sure to disturb many-but with good reason. Hopefully it will allow us to recognize the consequences of our reaction to this event.
Moving and timely, Hotel Rwanda skillfully illustrates how media can be used to bring attention to situations that should never be overlooked again.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Hotel Rwanda.
If you share this film with your teens (we can’t recommend it for pre-teens), be prepared to discuss what they have seen. It poses interesting questions about our responsibility to become involved in other country’s affairs.
Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian in charge of the UN Peacekeeping forces during the genocide, has suffered great mental anguish since the event. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed him in December 2003. The written transcript is located here: http://www.cbc.ca/hottype/season03-04/03-12-02_dallaire.html
MGM/UA has an especially impressive website for this film located here: http://www.mgm.com/ua/hotelrwanda/main.html. There are materials for teachers and parents that can be helpful in understanding the facts behind the movie.